The African continent is witnessing a noticeable growth in the activity of international security companies. The Libyan crisis has revealed the growing role of the Turkish company SADAT International Defense Consultancy in Libya, especially after its involvement in the training of militias associated with the Government of National Accord (GNA) since November 2019, and the letter of the United Nations (UN) to the Turkish government in June 2020 to inquire about the role of SADAT in recruiting and transferring Syrian mercenaries and children to Libya.[1] This raises many questions about the nature of the company's security role, the motives and limits of that role, and the risks of its expansion on the African continent.

The nature of the role and tasks

  • SADAT International Defense Consulting was established in 2012 by Adnan Tanrıverdi, a retired brigadier general. It is currently headed by his son Ali Kamil Melih Tanrıverdi, who is the author of the book "The Return of the Caliphate".[2] At its inception, the company included 23 commissioned and non-commissioned officers from various military units of the Turkish army.[3] Its role in the Turkish arena grew after its participation in thwarting the attempted military coup in 2016.[4] It has also played an active role in the Syrian war,[5] as well as in many African, European and Asian countries.
  • SADAT is associated with the Turkish government, and there are strong indications of this relationship, including the appointment of Adnan Tanrıverdi, the founder of the company, as a security adviser to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan,[6] and the provision by the company of security protection for the Turkish President.[7]
  • The company shrouds its activities abroad in secrecy. The Turkish government ignored the questions of the opposition inside the Turkish Parliament about the company's activities.[8] Reports indicated that SADAT set up training camps inside Turkey, especially two camps in the provinces of Tokat and Konya in central Anatolia, where mercenaries and terrorist organisations are being trained.[9]
  • Since its inception, SADAT has been influenced by the Salafi-jihadist ideology. It was joined from the beginning by military operatives who were expelled from the Turkish army in 1997 because of their Salafi tendencies. In December 2019, Adnan Tanrıverdi resigned from his position as an adviser to President Erdogan, after statements in which he said that “his company was paving the way for the coming of the [Awaited] Mahdi.”[10] In December 2017, SADAT submitted a proposal to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to form the “Army of Islam.”[11]
  • The field of SADAT’s activity is focused on providing training on irregular warfare. Information indicates that the company is involved in recruiting and training mercenaries from Syria and Asian and African countries, where the company receives a commission of 10,000 dollars for each fighter taking part in the fighting,[12] in addition to the company's role in providing intelligence to the Turkish intelligence service, marketing the Turkish military industry, and providing its customers with weapons, explosives and other military equipment.[13]

Limits of deployment and areas of concentration on the African continent

  • SADAT’s activity is concentrated in a number of African countries, especially Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Tunisia, Ethiopia, and other countries. International monitoring reports have already referred to SADAT’s presence in the port of Suakin in Sudan, and also in a Turkish military training camp in Somalia to train Somali forces.[14]
  • SADAT revealed on its website its presence in Libya.[15] Within 2020, it has already sent dozens of military trainers to train militias associated with the GNA,[16] and it is estimated that nearly 88 of the company’s operatives are present in Libya.[17] In November 2019, SADAT signed a contract with the Libyan private security company Security Side, led by the [Muslim] Brotherhood’s leading figure Sameh Bukatef, to train militias associated with the GNA.[18]

Incentives to expand on the continent

  • Strengthening the Turkish military presence, especially after Turkey signed an agreement with Niger to establish a military base in July 2020. This came after France's intention to strengthen its military presence in the African Sahel region and lead European efforts after the announcement of the formation of the European multi-task force Takuba.[19]
  • Protecting the security interests and working in favour of the Turkish political agenda. Information indicates that SADAT receives funding from the Turkish government and has received funding to train nearly 3,000 foreign fighters to be deployed in Syria and Libya.[20]
  • SADAT is an important military tool for Turkish intervention abroad without the need to expand the army’s involvement in foreign military operations, especially training mercenaries and transferring them to conflict areas.

Opportunities and challenges of expansion on the continent

A) Opportunities

  • Turkey’s signature of military cooperation agreements with many African countries, especially Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Ethiopia,[21] which provide for the involvement of private security establishments in performing some tasks.[22] For example, the Turkish military cooperation agreement with Libya includes provisions regarding the possibility of sending civilians who are members of defense and security organisations to Libya.[23]
  • The growing involvement of private military companies, such as the Russian Wagner Group, on the continent, which allows SADAT to exploit this climate to expand its activities in the context of the international competition for influence.[24]
  • Some African governments tend to seek the help of those companies in the context of civil wars due to the lack of confidence in the regular armies.

B) Challenges

  • Challenges of competition with other military companies, especially the Russian Wagner Group, which is more widespread in African countries (20 countries) and relatively more experienced than SADAT, considering that the Wagner operatives fight on the front lines, while SADAT focuses on training mercenaries and sending them to dispute areas.[25]
  • The international accusations made against SADAT of sponsoring terrorism, recruiting and training mercenaries (especially children under the age of 18) and sending them to Syria.[26] This weakens the company's credibility with African governments and puts the company's activity under the control and prosecution of many security and international agencies. Information indicates that SADAT recruited and trained mercenaries from Germany, Austria, Belgium, France, Sweden,[27] Azerbaijan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan. Russian investigations regarding the travel of 889 foreign fighters to Syria and Iraq from Russia revealed that 25 percent of those had been in contact with SADAT.[28]

Risks of expansion in Africa

  • Providing logistical support to terrorist and extremist organisations. In one of his statements, Adnan Tanrıverdi stated that “Turkey should support Islamic groups against state terrorism.” He said that “foreign-backed state terrorism targeting Islamic groups in some critical regions of Africa such as the Central African Republic, Mali, and Nigeria, and preventive measures [to protect those groups] should be studied carefully.”[29]
  • Military, security and ideological penetration of African armies. There is a possibility of recruiting and directing some military men  to form military insurgency movements or carry out military coups. The company may exploit its presence to gather intelligence, or seek to recruit soldiers and make them join terrorist organisations.
  • The risks of escalating wars between international military companies, especially between Turkish SADAT and Russian Wagner. For example, while SADAT supports the militias loyal to the GNA, Wagner supports the forces of the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.[30]

Conclusion

The Sadat Company is considered a military arm of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey, and a military tool in the hands of the Turkish government to support extremist organisations on the African continent. Thus, in terms of its military pattern, Sadat is closer to the revolutionary irregular armies, such as the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and their external arm the Quds Corps. Therefore, Sadat is expected to expand its activities to support unrest, religious conflicts, subversive activities and political assassinations, and to fuel radical revolutionary ideas in dispute areas on the continent. Libya, Central Africa, Nigeria and other African countries witnessing divisions between moderate and radical currents constitute a suitable environment for the expansion of SADAT’s activity.

Endnotes

[1] Letter of the UN to the Turkish government to inquire about the role of private security companies in recruiting mercenaries and children and sending them to Libya, dated 10 June 2020. Available at: https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadPublicCommunicationFile?gId=25292

[2] Sound of Silence Group, SADAT: Erdoğan's Private Army, August 2017. Available at: https://purgednato.files.wordpress.com/2017/08/SADAT-erdogans-private-army-2017.pdf

[3] SADAT International Defense Consultancy, “Consultancy (for Military). Available at: https://SADAT.com.tr/ar/our-services-aa/consultancy-aa/consultancy-military-aa.html

[4] Ely Karmon & Michael Barak, Erdogan’s Turkey and the Palestinian Issue, Perspectives on Terrorism, Vol. 12, Issue 2, April 2018, available at: https://www.universiteitleiden.nl/binaries/content/assets/customsites/perspectives-on-terrorism/2018/2018-02/06-erdogan%E2%80%99s-turkey-and-the-palestinian-issue-by-ely-karmon--michael-barak.pdf

[5] Oward Eisenstadt, Snapshot - Uneasy Rests the Crown: Erdoğan and ‘Revolutionary Security’ in Turkey, POMED, 20 December 2018, available at: http://pomed.org/pomed-snapshot-uneasy-rests-the-crown-erdogan-and-revolutionary-security-in-turkey/

[6] Zafer Yörük, SADAT: the Horsemen of the apocalypse?, 22/2/2020, available at: https://www.duvarenglish.com/columns/2020/02/22/SADAT-the-horsemen-of-the-apocalypse/

[7] Oward Eisenstadt, op. cit.

[8] Zafer Yörük, op. cit.

[9] Idem.

[10] Suleyman Ozeren, Suat Cubukcu & Matthew Bastug, Where Will Erdogan’s Revolution Stop?, 3/2/2020, available at: https://www.hudson.org/research/15682-where-will-erdogan-s-revolution-stop

[11] Ely Karmon & Michael, op. cit.

[12] Stockholm Center for Freedom, COMMENTARY— Libyan Jihadist cells in Turkey protected by Erdoğan regime, 26/5/2017, available at: https://stockholmcf.org/commentary-libyan-jihadist-cells-in-turkey-protected-by-erdogan-regime/

[13] Michael Rubun, Has SADAT become Erdogan’s Revolutionary Guards?, 30/5/2017, available at: https://www.aei.org/foreign-and-defense-policy/middle-east/has-sadat-become-erdogans-revolutionary-guards/

[14] Grey Dynamics, SADAT: The Turkish Mercenaries Who Support Islamist Groups, 7/7/2020, available at: https://sofrep.com/news/sadat-the-turkish-mercenaries-who-support-islamist-groups/

[16] Defaacto, Little Green Men, Mercenary Operations in Libya, Open Source Intelligence Notes, 4/6/2020, available at: http://defaakto.com/2020/04/06/little-green-men-mercenary-operations-in-libya-open-source-intelligence-notes/

[17] Zafer Yörük, op. cit.

[18] Dicle Esiyok, Turkish military contractor SADAT has always been in Libya, 8/1/2020, available at: https://ahvalnews.com/sadat/turkish-military-contractor-sadat-has-always-been-libya

[19] Sergey Sukhankin, France to Lead Joint Effort in War on Terrorism in Sahel Region, Terrorism Monitor, The Jamestown Foundation, Volume Xviii, Issue 10, May 15, 2020, p.5.

[20] Suat Cubukcu, The Rise of Paramilitary Groups in Turkey, 03/03/2018, available at: https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/rise-paramilitary-groups-turkey

[21] Grey Dynamics, op. cit.

[22] Turkey’s paramilitary contractor SADAT eyes training African troops via defense deals, 28/5/2020, available at: https://www.nordicmonitor.com/2020/05/turkeys-paramilitary-contractor-sadat-aims-at-training-african-troops-with-the-help-of-defense-cooperation-agreements/

[23] Dicle Esiyok, op. cit.

[24] Ahmad Askar, The Increasing Presence and Role of Private Security Firms in Africa: The Russian Company “Wagner” as a Model, Emirates Policy Center, 7 June 2020. Available at: https://epc.ae/topic/the-increasing-presence-and-role-of-private-security-firms-in-africa-the-russian-company-wagner-as-a-model

[25] Idem.

[26] Michael Rubun, op. cit.

[27] Sound of Silence Group, op. cit.

[28] Idem.

[29] Grey Dynamics, op. cit.

[30] Idem.

 

Latest Briefs